Control Records at home in Hillcrest
September 23-29, 2019
By Becca Bona
“Every big music fan dreams of opening a record shop,” said Wes Howerton, co-owner of Little Rock’s newest vinyl venture in Hillcrest. In fact, his fellow co-owner Michael Shaeffer remembers a conversation the two had back in the day going something like – “Hey, we should open a record shop sometime.”
That “sometime” turned out to be sooner than either could imagine, and now in their third month of business at their location on 2612 Kavanaugh, Control Little Rock is settling into a groove.
Becoming a team
The banter between the duo is similar to that of lifelong friends, even though they first met three years ago.
Shaeffer, a New York native turned Arkansan, is well-known in central Arkansas for his visual art. Howerton, an Arkansas native with a love for radio, is the host of local KABF’s “NVRMND The Morning Show.”
The two met by chance, as Shaeffer was at the KABF studio waiting to be on a program to discuss his art. A fan of Howerton’s show, Shaeffer said, “Hey, you’re theguy that has that morning show.” Howerton responded, “Yep. I’m that guy with the morning show.”
The two ended up chatting for quite a bit, and a few weeks later when they ran into each other at Stifft Station’s White Water Tavern, they got to talking music.
“We were talking about [Michael’s] son loving Bowie […] and then decided we should hang out. So, we went and had lunch,” Howerton recalled.
The two eventually became a duo – bringing different skillsets and experiences to the table that would lead to a record shop.
For instance, after attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Howerton moved to Seattle with the goal of working in the music industry.
“I interned at Sub Pop for a while, and then I got a job at Barsuk Records. I worked at Barsuk for 13 years doing everything from radio promotions to marketing and even managing bands,” he said.
Shaeffer had made a career in visual merchandising with Dillard’s, working the post for nearly 10 years. When he met Howerton, however, he was just about to quit.
“That’s when Wes and I thought about doing popups,” Shaeffer said. “I didn’t think about it at the time, but it made perfect sense for that to be my next step.”
Finding the groove
With a few soul brunches at local restaurants under their belts, the two were elated when they got a call about being a part of Create Little Rock and studioMain’s 2018 project – PopUp Stifft Station.
Each year the organizations host a joint event focused on exhibiting important elements of the city, such as multiple transportation options and an active street edge, typically highlighting areas that could better create community.
“We literally just pulled 300 records out of our personal collections,” Shaeffer said. “It was all used, we were a makeshift record store.”
They took the money they made and begin to accumulate inventory. They relied on Howerton’s connections and began to get new vinyl.
“We saw there was a big niche for new records,” Shaeffer said.
The existing shops in Little Rock tend to have larger inventories of used records, and Howerton and Shaeffer decided while they wanted to dabble in both, new vinyl would be their bread-and-butter.
Setting up shop
Fans began to develop an interest towards the unassuming makeshift record store. So much so, that they began to clamor for a brick-and-mortar shop.
“Wes crunched some numbers, to see if we could make it happen,” Shaeffer said.
At that point, the big issue was finding the perfect location.
“We kind of heard through friends of friends that this place might open,” Howerton said. “I came in and looked at it and I was like this seriously could be it. Michael came in and was like, nah dude.”
“I said I loved the location,” Shaeffer recalled, “but I thought this place made no sense.”
Set up as a boutique realty office (the space formerly housed River Rock Realty), Shaeffer couldn’t get past the fireplace and large, clunky desk in the corner. Howerton, however, had the vision, and after walking through a fourth time, it clicked.
The two put their mark on it and opened up a shop with a vibe that begs patrons to stay a while.
“I think a big part of record stores in general is that they’re really cluttered,” Shaeffer explained. “I wanted our shop to be super clean […] every record in here – [Wes] or I or both of us have decided – this is what we want to have in our store. We’ve stripped down the sheer amount of stuff so that you’re not overwhelmed.”
Since opening the two have enjoyed a variety of patrons from all walks of life. Nevertheless, they’ve been surprised at the age range of their most active patrons.
“We’ve seen a lot of kids from 15 to 18 come in here,” Shaeffer said. He theorizes these teens are into vinyl because they’ve grown up in a digital age, where music isn’t as tangible as it was for those of us who remember vinyl, cassette tapes, and even CDs.
“You can put Spotify on and leave it on all day and forget that you even have music going,” said Shaeffer. “With a vinyl album you’re forced to listen to it the way the artist designed it.”
“You participate,” Howerton added. “It’s not secondary it remains in the primary.”
And along this vein, patrons are invited to actively participate, as there’s a listening booth in the corner to check out the music before purchasing.
The two make a great team – as seen from their passion for a wide variety of music and the painstaking care that went into opening the shop. “Wes and I are very different,” said Shaeffer. “We really do a good job of balancing each other out.”
For instance, the name and logo was a joint venture – as Howerton had an idea for the word Control, and Shaeffer wanted to develop a symbol that was both timeless and modern in the logo.
The result – the word Control surrounded by circular patterns which could easily be a 45 – fits in nicely with the shop’s vibe.
Vinyl is currently poised to outsell CDs for the first time since 1986. Even so, opening a shop in the digital age could be considered a bit risky. The two have banked on that – and provide more than new and used vinyl, record players, and other band related merch. They provide a real world experience that you can’t get anywhere else.
“When we opened this place one of the things we were the most excited about was learning from other people,” said Howerton, “and getting to talk about music.”
“It’s also about coming in and having that experience. It’s about having human interaction,” Shaeffer added.
Control has future plans to get involved with the local scene by curating or sponsoring shows featuring local musicians or even hosting release parties.
Shaeffer said it best: “I’m excited to see where this takes us – we’re only on month three, and we’ve had a really great ride so far. Its feels like we’ve been here forever.”
Housed at 2612 Kavanaugh Blvd in Suite B, Hillcrest’s newest vinyl venture winds its way around the bottom east side of the building. Open, airy, and inviting, shop owners Michael Shaeffer (left) and Wes Howerton (right) hope when you come in, you’ll stay awhile. In its third month of business, Control is making waves as a new and used vinyl shop in the heart of Hillcrest. The shop buys used records from those looking to sell, provides new records for those looking to purchase, and also houses a space for music lovers to congregate. Find Control on social media or visit their shop every day of the week except Monday. Sell your used vinyl, buy something new, or just stop by to say hi. (Photos by Becca Bona)